Vodafone is facing calls to be broken up, or undergo a huge financial restructuring, from a group of activist investors including the City banker who floated Manchester United and the executive blamed for the collapse of Marconi.
Vodafone, the world's second largest mobile phone company, said last night that it had received a list of resolutions which a company called Efficient Capital Structures wants put to a shareholder vote at next month's annual meeting.
The resolutions are understood to include a call for Vodafone to increase the amount of debt on its balance sheet in order to return more cash to shareholders. Another resolution calls for Vodafone to demerge its 45% stake in American mobile phone business Verizon Wireless back to shareholders. There has been intense speculation in recent days that Vodafone might become the target of a break-up and the news is likely to reignite talk of the company's future structure.
Vodafone said last night that it had received a letter "claiming to require Vodafone to submit a number of resolutions to the company's AGM on July 24 concerning potential restructuring options for the company".
"Vodafone will be reviewing the contents of this letter and will be making a further announcement in due course," it said.
A resolution can be put before shareholders at an AGM if it has the backing of shareholders with 5% of a company's shares, or has the backing of 100 individual shareholders. Vodafone has more than 50bn shares in issue and its largest shareholder - Legal & General - only has a 4% stake, so Efficient Capital Structures is understood to be using the 100 shareholders route to get its resolutions before the meeting.
Efficient Capital Structures is understood to include Glenn Cooper, the investment banker who floated Man Utd in 1991 when he worked at Henry Ansbacher & Co. At the time he was best known in the City as the man who rejected Bobby Charlton and Michael Knighton for the board of the company and recruited the late Sir Roland Smith as non-executive chairman.
Having worked at the corporate finance and stockbroking firm Altium Capital, he is currently chairman of Zeus Capital, a Manchester-based corporate finance house. Alongside him is believed to be the former Marconi chief executive designate John Mayo. He played a leading role in the acquisitions spree designed to turn the once great defence conglomerate GEC, favoured by widows and orphans, into a telecommunications group called Marconi. He was blamed, along with chief executive George Simpson, for the collapse which saw the company's value fall from £34bn to just £66m. He was ousted in the summer of 2001 with £2.7m in severance and pension payments.
A subsequent inquiry by the Financial Services Authority, into a bungled profits warning that prompted the downfall, exonerated Mr Mayo. The day after the report, the FSA authorised Mr Mayo to run a new investment advisory business. Since then he has resurfaced as an investor in biotech companies.
Separately, it emerged last night that plans by the regulator Ofcom to slash the cost of calling mobile phones have run aground, with O2 and 3 - two of Britain's five networks - lodging legal appeals against the plans. BT has also called in lawyers, saying the proposed price caps, which will save the average consumer only £8 a year, should be even fiercer.
O2, 3 and BT have all appealed to the competition appeal tribunal. Orange and T-Mobile are reviewing their positions but are also both likely to take action. Vodafone last night looked likely to be the only UK network not joining what could become an acrimonious spat with the regulator.